One of my daughters, who shall remain nameless (but she’s my youngest!) is what we affectionately refer to as a “coffee snob.” She and her caffeine-loving husband both share the same aromatically, highly-lifted nose in the world of coffee beans. They can smell an inferior brand a kilometre away. When they travel, they bring along their own coffee maker; and to watch them make a simple cup of coffee—well, trust me, it’s not so simple. Who would have guessed that there is more to making a cup of java than merely boiling water, adding a spoon of freeze dried granules and stirring. Oh, did I imply instant coffee? Perish the thought! Such simplistic approach to a cup of coffee is somewhere between Neanderthalian and barbarian for a true coffee snob! Even Jacob’s does not make the grade! They know what they like—and what they don’t like. But having exposed their fastidiousness as coffee connoisseurs, it must also be pointed out that, when offered a cup of coffee from a coffee “commoner” such as myself, they politely and appreciatively accept (well, endure) it. Unfortunately, there is another category of fastidious consumer that is not so accommodating—the sermon snob. I tend to suffer from this. You might also.
Sermon snobs exist in various shades of snobbishness. But they (we!) share the common characteristic that we tend to turn our noses up at preaching that does not satisfy our highly developed sermonic palate. Having grown accustomed to our favourite Bible teachers, we have a hard time being satisfied by the efforts of those less gifted and/or experienced. The sermon snob will find it difficult to be blessed unless the speaker compares with their personal favourite whom they listen to each week via their iPod, MP3 player or CDs. If the exposition does not align itself with the meals served up by Dr So-and-So, great disappointment is the result. I recently read a funny satire called, “10 Ways to Encourage Your Pastor.” One suggestion was, “Remind him that he is not John Piper”! I laughed—before I cried. Well, not really. But I did painfully get the point.
I know of a church in Joburg that was blessed many years ago with a wonderful preacher. But a problem arose. Sometimes people would arrive at the service and ask the usher at the door if this man was preaching. If he wasn’t, they would get back in their car and leave. Sermon snobs. Religious spectators. Sermon tasters. Congregational consumers.
Please don’t misunderstand: No doubt, we all have our favourite preachers and teachers. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with this. What I am cautioning against is the tendency to base our church attendance on who is in the pulpit. This can be very selfish behaviour. This can be the expression of a heart of a consumer rather than the heart of a community-minded church member.
The same can be said for our response to the subject matter of a sermon, and our decision as to whether we will attend. Keeping with the coffee metaphor, if you need caffeine, then whether the beans are dark or medium roast, chances are they will do the job!
We are to gather on the Lord’s Day to worship, to edify others and to be edified. If the church is serving up the Word of God, then regardless of who is delivering it, and regardless of what part of the biblical menu is being served, we can all learn something; we can all be equipped in the area that is being addressed. Further, our attendance and our attentive engagement during the sermon can be a blessing to the one serving the meal to us. We call such participation body life; we call this an expression of meaningful church membership. We can call this love.
Recently, a church member shared that, when she heard that I was doing a series on racism, she was reluctant to come. But she attended. With tears, she said that it proved very helpful to her. This is so often the case. We are not called to be sermon tasters; rather, we are called to submit to God’s Word—whoever is delivering it (under the supervision of the eldership) and whatever its biblical subject matter.
As we are often reminded, the local church is a family. One of the familial consequences is that our desires don’t always take precedence. Though I love lasagne and am not a big fan of stir-fry, I don’t skip dinner when the latter is served. Rather, as a part of the family, I gather with them and thankfully eat what has been lovingly prepared. So it should be when a series is preached in our church that would not be our “lasagne.” Let me flesh this out, practically.
Eventually, we will come to chapter 5 in our exposition of Ephesians. When we do, we will find ourselves studying the doctrine of marriage. For those who are not married, and for those who have no intention of marrying, this may not seem to be very relevant. The same can be said for parenting (6:1–4). Nevertheless, it is important that every member of our church be equipped from these passages. It is important for the health of our church that we share the same biblical convictions about these matters. It may not be your first choice for a series, but, like they tell us on the airplanes before serving the meal, “If you don’t receive your first choice, we trust that you will be equally pleased with your second choice.” Someone has to eat the fish; try and be glad that your fellow passenger is enjoying their beef.
Enough said. May the Lord bless us with a corporate disposition that willingly dies to self so that we will participate in our weekly gatherings—regardless of who is preaching; and regardless of what passage is being taught. It’s okay to only drink Seattle Coffee. It’s not okay to treat the church this way. Let’s not be sermon snobs.